Category Archives: Coffee Roasters

London Coffee Report 2018

I cannot see the end of 2018 without sharing a brief report of my coffee experiences in my favourite coffee city, London. Although I spent the least amount of days in London in 2018 that I have done in the past few years, I tried my best to try at least two new spots, so lets’ start with these.

When in the City of London, try Rosslyn Coffee, 78 Queen Victoria St, London EC4N 4SJ 

By the City of London, I don’t mean the actually city. If you visit London and ask them how do I get to the city, they will direct you to the square mile area, which was originally the “city gate” of London. There’s actually a brick wall, mostly destroyed, around this square mile, which now hosts the financial area of London and perhaps Europe. It is also where most of money is made in London, according to some stats. To get to this coffee shop, take the northern or central line to Bank, the station next to the Bank of England – you couldn’t get more “city like” than this. From the station, I highly recommend using goggle maps to get tot he cafe like I did, as there are many streets in this vicinity. However, if you work in the city, then you’ll know how to get there – it’s not far from the Bloomberg HQ.

So now, time for coffee

 

This is actually a picture of a clock in the cafe. A small spot, designed to churn out coffee at high speed to a busy on the go crowd on their synesso espresso machine coupled with batch brew coffee on the go. There won’t be much time for any chit chat with the staff, order, wait, pick up and go. If you have a bit of time, facing the till, look to your right and you can buy some coffee to take home (roasted for them), which I did – their espresso blend to be precise. In any case, I ordered a cortado, being mid-afternoon – a milk chocolate taste – the standard, carefully prepared.

Also on offer, are pastries and brownie bars. If you have a bit of time, which you should always have for coffee – have your coffee in a porcelain cup (it taste much better) and sit on some high stools before that important meeting. If you are lucky and if they have time, chat with the staff, which I did, with one of the owners, James, formerly of Caravan Coffee (who opened this spot with Mat, also formerly of Caravan Coffee). Highly recommended if you are in the city and want some coffee well prepared with no frills.

The Best Coffee in Balham: Story Works, 31 St John’ s Hill vs  Birdhouse Coffee 123 St John’s Hill, London SW11 1SZ

Actually I didn’t give them that acclaim but it was awarded to them by a reviewer. The main reason I was here was because I stayed with my brother in Clapham and by default I just head into the city for my specialty coffee fix without checking if there’s anything worthy in this part of London. So, one Sunday morning, I decided to google and having scanned some reviews and pics of shops, I decided on two – Story works (the smaller version of Story coffee) and birdhouse. I must confess when I checked the pics, I was bias towards Story Coffee, with their bright looking shop and their Kees van der Westen Spirit machine. I thought they must know what they are doing, plus it was in much closer proximity to my brothers house.

At Story Works, opposite the Clapham Junction Railway Station, I’m not sure if they had a trainee by himself on Sunday but I already started getting nervous when I asked him some basic coffee questions like type of coffee and commented in the machine. I also timed the shot and heard the manner in which the milk was frothed and eventually poured – let’s just say I dint even bother to take a picture and after a few sips, I’m sorry to say, I couldn’t finish the coffee and left hanging with coffee withdrawal symptoms. That’s why I decided to take the other 6-7 minutes of walking up hill to birdhouse, where I passed by the original Story Coffee on 115 St John’s Hill, which was quite packed as they offer enticing looking food, but another time.

As you enter, I must say, there is absolutely no frills. It’s reminisce of a classic general shop, grey and hints of yellow, nothing special, but I wasn’t here to take pics of their decor, but to taste their coffee, prepared using one grinder and a La Marzocco Linea. After my not so amusing experience at Story Coffee, I was already sceptical, but it paid off and I must confess after this beautifully crafted cappuccino, I was thinking “the best coffee in Wandsworth” as one reviewer mentioned might not be off the mark.

Also on offer is food, so you can brunch and lunch too – check goggle for some enticing looking food to savour.

One proviso, to be fairer I plan to try Story Coffee next time when in this area, but for now Birdhouse wins.

Coffee and the Best Banana Bread – Saint Espresso Kentish Town and Baker Street

I know I went here last year but it is a good spot to meet family in this part of London. So you can probably guess how my family conversations go”where can we meet Lameen?” “a coffee shop but let me choose and tell you where”. If we are going to meet, let me take control and chit and chatter over good coffee and cakes, so we were back here again – family gathering over lots of coffee and some hot chocolate too.

Coffee was good but I must confess the banana bread was the best I’ve had and I let the chef know too.

On another occasion, I tried their coffee shop at Baker’s Street (located at 214 Baker St, Marylebone, London NW1 5RT), which is smaller for my daily cappuccino fix.

As you enter, you can pick up gadgets and coffee and as you approach the counter, there’s lots of treats (cakes, pastries, etc) to choose from before your coffee is made on their customised black linea La Marzocco machine. I met their manager, Rustam Baratov, who was very hospitable and we exchanged contacts.

 

When in the West End again – Notes Coffee, Bond Street Station and Grind Soho, 19 Beak St, Soho, London W1F 9RP but of course

But of course…. I’ve got to add the to go places. My first stop since 2017 has been Notes coffee located at Bond street underground station because it is just where we always end up as soon as we arrive in London – the West end. You are guaranteed a good cup of coffee, whether espresso based or batch brew and there’s always tempting sweet bites and friendly staff for a more pleasant experience.

 

Another place in the heart of the West End is soho and for coffee, Soho Grind. During the summer they were celebrating their tenth anniversary, which meant a fantastic batch brew and by fantastic, I mean juicy mouthfeel, balanced acidity, fruity – so good I went back not twice but thrice. In fact it was so good I wanted to buy a bag or tin (Grind sell their coffees in tins) but it was so special that if they had a price, it would have been one I would  have had to hide from my wife, ha!. In any case it wasn’t for sale, just for their customers to enjoy over and over again, until it ran out – lucky me and my taste buds.

So there we are my London coffee report just in time before we hit 2019 God willing.

All the best for the new year; don’t drink too much…. coffee and here’s to more great coffee shops opening in London in 2019, enjoy!

 

 

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I was @ Brew Cafe, Dubai

It should no longer come as a surprise to you that whenever I get the opportunity to stop over in Dubai, I take it. So on the last occasion, my plan was to try another cafe that I had never been to. Calling my newly converted “to specialty coffee” friends in Dubai one afternoon and enquiring what they were up to, they mentioned that they wanted to try a new cafe out in Dubai and what do you know, coincidentally, praise God – it was one I had never been to – Brew Cafe, located in Jumeirah Road, Umm Suqeim 2. As I wasn’t that far away, another friend drop me by.

Upon entering I did my coffee geek thing – scout the cafe and ask the staff about the coffee on offer. In summary, they have an uber boiler and a special gadget, never seen before, for preparing filter coffee, a typical Swedish style glass counter, displaying some sweet treats and sandwiches. As you enter, there are some high chairs to your left and some lower seating on the right together with red tiled topped tables. Closer to the window on the left, where we sat, they have a low table with some chairs. To the far left near the brew counter, they have a shelf selling coffees and brewing gadgets. The pay point has a back drop of their logo.

However, the main scene stealer for me was the Kees van der Westen spirit two group coffee machine, which I haven’t seen for a while. A very fine looking machine that promises to deliver;

So, off to the coffee then. They have some unusual coffee menu items for the untrained eye, like the nitro (never tried) and the magic (I used to serve this at Escape in cape town but in summary it hails from Melbourne and mine was a triple shot cortado). I settled for a piccolo, knowing that later I couldn’t resist a filter brew.

On coffees, they have a strong bias for Barn Berlin – one of Berlin’s finest coffee roasters, offering for both espresso and filter brew, but I was wondering why they haven’t been loyal to the up and coming local coffee roasteries. However, I spotted a coffee bag from newly crowned world coffee roaster of the year Gardelli – a bag from Uganda – the Mzungu coffee project. Initially the barista, John, wanted to make this for me but when I went for it, he informed that there wasn’t enough to make my chemex, crying out loud. For my second brew, I chose a Costa Rican coffee, roasted by Barn Berlin. I shared some with my friends so that they could sample filter coffee not just from one of the consistently good coffee producing nations on earth, but more importantly to introduce their taste buds to a new way of tasting and drinking coffee.

Before I left I bought a bag of Barn Berlin Costa Rican Vulcan Azul coffee to take back to Vienna – perhaps I should have felt guilty from an environmental perspective – buying German roasted coffee, shipped to Dubai and then shipped back to Germany’s neighbour, Austria. Sorry!

In summary, another good Dubai coffee experience at a no frills place that might need more staff when it gets a bit busy. Nevertheless you are guaranteed some good coffee and if you have space, some sweet treats too.


Dubai Coffee Scene 2018: The Roasters

So, Dubai has lots of coffee shops now, but who is supplying them with their main commodity – roasted coffee beans ? If you are an ardent follower of my blog, then you’ll know that as far back as 2008, I found out that Kim, was moving to Dubai to start a coffee roasting business, Raw Coffee. Back then I found this very interesting but also very brave, because Dubai was awash with coffee chains, stuck in the first wave of coffee – just drinking from the World leaders in coffee branding (Starbucks, Costa, etc) and Kim wanted to start roasting for speciality coffee – back when there wasn’t even a single coffee shop in the whole of Dubai, let alone the UAE that cared what coffee should taste like.

Fast forward to 2013 and Kim already some clients – Tom&Serg and some restaurants – things were moving but still Dubai only had one speciality coffee roaster. It wouldn’t be until about 2015, when the guys behind Tom&Serg decided to launch their own coffee roasting business – now called Encounter Coffee. Sure there were some others roasters popping up like Coffee Planet and eventually Ortis, whose coffee you can buy at Dubai Duty Free and drink at a few cafes, like Dean&Deluca but specialty roasting, focussing on direct trade, sourcing the best coffee and investing in roasting profiles and aiming to compete at the World stage, not much, until now.

So, now they have %Arabica Coffee Roasters, Seven Fortunes, Stomping Grounds, Gold Box and Specialty Batch, whose coffees can be found across many of the new coffee shops. From the personal conversations I’ve had with them, they seem to have been started by Emirati businessmen who loved coffee and wanted to replicate something in their own lands, hiring professionals from abroad to train their own staff, which seem quite competent now. They tend to roast in the al Quoz industrial district, which I’m sure if you visit, near Mall fo emirates, will smell like coffee land. On my last trip I discovered Grandmother (unusual name), Grind and Emirati Coffee, but I’m sure there’s more that I’ve missed. Here’s a snapshot of them

%Arabica

Obviously just roast for themselves as they are a branded coffee shop. They have a wide range of coffee from “normal” to 90+. Their house blends tend to be darkly roasted with a chocolate bias and their much wider range of filter coffees are too numerous in taste profiles to mention. You can buy coffee from their shops, ranging from about US$13 for about 200g to US$150 for their top coffee (usually Panama geisha) – yes, you read that right; US$150 for 200g. This is Dubai and the fact that a coffee shop offers coffee to buy over the counter at that price must mean that they have customers willing to pay that. I have never seen any coffee shop in London selling at that price range but I guess if you wanted something like that it can be arranged. In any case, I presume that %Arabica don’t spare any effort in trying to purchase the best green beans to roast. To finish, you can buy these special coffees to drink at their shop – see my last post and from what I tasted they are quite good at roasting.

Seven Fortunes

I first tried this coffee at Culinary Boutique (see my post in 2016) and was so impressed with their fruity bias, that I bought a bag of their coffee to take how with me. They seemed to have grown in stature and popularity and now have outlets that serve their coffee. Visit their website to buy coffee, get brewing guides, pay for training sessions and more. You can visit them to learn how to set up a coffee shop, including equipment advice – they deal with La Marzocco.

Specialty Batch

Growing in popularity especially as they distribute Synesso espresso machines, which from my last visit was very prominent as well as Slayer espresso machines. On the coffee front, they seem to also have a wide range of outlets serving their coffees (depresso from my last post). You can also buy coffee from their website.

Emirati Coffee – the Return of Omni Roast

Last but not least and I have to say, wow! why, because, although they are new on the scene, they seem to have propelled themselves. They roast at Al Quoz too and you can buy coffee from their pop-up shop at Dar Wasl Mall – see my last post or by visiting them at their roastery – Al Quoz Industrial 3, Dubai. As I mentioned in my last post I bought a bag of their coffee, Ethiopian Edido, Yirgacheffe, which they assured me was roasted using the Omni method, which from Perfectly daily grind blog means;

Omni roasting embraces the idea that any coffee can be brewed using any method. So long as the coffee was roasted well, it’ll play well across a variety of brew methods – be it press, filter, espresso, or even cold brew.

That doesn’t mean that every coffee will taste the same in every brew method, of course, or even that every coffee will suit every brew method. A French press will highlight a coffee’s body and perhaps its dark fruit notes. An espresso will highlight acidity and, if they are present, citrus notes.

In short if a coffee is roasted this way you can brew it in many ways, espresso and filter style. I must confess whenever a roaster tell me this, I am usually sceptical – why ? Because whenever I get home and try the beans, whilst they may pass the filter brewing style (aero press, Hario V60), they always fail the espresso brewing method, until NOW.

I’ve only had one beautiful omni roast experience and that was by Square Mile, their Brazilian arabica coffee CAPAO CHAPADA DIAMANTINA or Capao (so good it has to be in CAPs) – read here.

Emirati’s Edido is definitely a close second behind Capao and that for me is a fantastic rating, because with this coffee I really enjoyed brewing it – such a shame I didn’t buy a 500g bag. Everyday, I didn’t know which brewing method to use to get the best taste profile out. With espresso, caramel and almonds with a hint of red berries and with aero press, more red berries and with Hario V60, more dried grapes and floral.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end, at least with culinary delights.

In summary, I think no real place can call themselves a coffee capital without some serious attention to locally based coffee roasteries and hats off (well done) to the Dubai and Emirati based coffee connoisseurs for tasing their game to roasting specialty coffee style. I look forward to checking out gold Box and any other newbies in the Dubai coffee roasting scene.


I was @ Java House, Kenya: Perhaps, Africa’s best coffee chain?

Actually, I’m a bit embarrassed by the lateness of this post, because last year I had one of my most surprising coffee experiences in the eclectic city of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city and main hub. As per usual, I had to attend a five day meeting in the city and of course I was on the hunt for coffee. Prior to my departure, I visited lonely planet’s helpful guide to cafes and restaurants to visit in Nairobi – also a major tourist destination and springboard to visit the vast wildlife and safaris across the country; and found 2-3 interesting ones. You may wish to know too that Nairobi is the only capital city in the World where there’s actually a natural safari park, near the airport, which we visited on our penultimate day – pics at the end.

So how about the coffee ? After all I was visiting one of the premier coffee countries in the World – not just a coffee growing country but a country that reputably has one of the best arabica varieties in the World (SL28 and SL32 but let’s not go there with deep coffee neurosis), sought after by coffee connoisseurs all over. Due to the location of our meeting and hence hotel, we were placed right bang in the middle of the city. I had initially wanted to check out another brand, the Artcaffe Coffee & Bakery, which looked very “European/American” in design, but all their locations were too far to get to during my busy week, so Java House it was – located on Mama Ngina Street, Transnational Plaza, about 5 minutes walk from the Hilton Hotel.

Upon entering their cafe, you won’t notice anything special in terms of decor; no exposed bricks, Scandinavian clean white washed floors and serving bar, because this is no frills per say – you could easily be in a typical local restaurant, apart from the smell of coffee and for geeks like me – the La Marzocco GB5 espresso machine. I looked around, the clientele was mainly Kenyan but there were a few what looked like backpackers as they had free wifi for customers too. I checked their menu – typical espresso menu, even with an offer for double as well as triple shots. I enquired about their coffee – roasted in small batches every day, primarily from Kenya but also from the region, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Rwanda. I checked out the barista and his skills as he prepared other drinks and not to seem to geeky in front of my colleague, recommend that we both try a double espresso each. I must confess I wasn’t expecting much – I could hear my wife echoing her usual verdict of “coffee snob” into my ear from 1,000 of kilometres away in Vienna.

Hmm! Espresso served with a biscuit

So impressed with the extraction and of course the taste, my colleague immediately went over to ask about buying their coffees. Initially I was reluctant, but bought a Kenyan AA filter blend 500g of arabica coffee beans. The bill, for 2 double espressos and a 375g of Kenyan AA bag of coffee – wait for it US$10 – now that’s a great all round experience.

Of course I went back but must confess that on one occasion I was the victim of the plague of inconsistency that sometimes hampers African businesses, as on my second visit, the espresso lacked vigour – no crema and bitter. Needless to say, the other 1/2 visits did not disappoint. In a way I got the impression that their roasting skills would not disappoint and bought another bag of coffee, but this time from their speciality offering of a Rwandan arabica to take home with me and try on my French press. My colleague bought about 3-4 bags – I lost count.

Java House, I came to find out have about 40 branches in Nairobi alone. They seem quite popular and were always busy when I visited, perhaps because they also have an extensive food menu, including red velvet cake closing late, around 10pm everyday.

They also have a branch at the airport and saw their beans being sold in a duty free shop, but be warned, the coffee was not as freshly roasted as the ones in the city and were more expensive – I smiled to myself as I left the bags of months old roasted coffee at the airport duty free, informing the shop keeper that the coffee costs more at duty free but in town.

In summary I was quite happy to see that Java House, Kenyan created and currently still owned is an African coffee chain that is built on using locally produced coffee, roasted in small batches and successful in terms of its wide range and number of outlets in the city and beyond – It was also gratifying to see that Kenyans were enjoying one of their most prized exports in their own country and that the best stuff hadn’t been siphoned off to the European US and beyond – proud to be African is what comes to mind.


London Coffee Report 2017

I can’t believe it’s already 2018. Wow! time really flies. I was reviewing my blog for 2017 and it dawned on me that I didn’t do London coffee scene post for 2017, so here it is, a mix of the new, a fave and convenient, the classic and going back.

The Classic – Store Street Espresso – 40 Store St, Fitzrovia, London WC1E 7DB, UK

In fact it is quite baffling as to why since this London “classic” opened in 2010, around the time the World Barista Championships (WBC) were held in London, I have never been here. I first heard of them as they were one of the first coffee shops to use Square Mile Coffee way back then and they still use them. Sure I’ve been to their “sister” shop, Continental Stores, but not to the big brother. So one rainy August I trekked to Store Street where the shop is located – yes, the shop is named after the street it is located on.

When I finally got there, it was late afternoon and I was really panting for coffee. The place was fairly empty but you could tell that it was the sort of place that would have been very busy earlier in the day. As you walk in, all the action is on your left, Vittoria Arduino espresso machine, grinders, etc, fronted by grab me pastries and and cakes, even though most of them had gone already. As you walk past the brew station and before you approach the sitting area, just on your right they have coffee on sale and gadgets too. The place looks quite bright as they have a sun roof, similar to Colonna and Smalls in Bath. The staff look liked they had just finished a battle, but relaxed and still smiling. To test their milk based skills I went for a cortado using Square Miles Red Brick and some sugar, pasties de nata;

A tasty brew but I wasn’t finished. Before my new coffee, I took a walk around and started chatting to one of the staff, Toby. Taken aback by my questions, he offered me a special brew using the V60 and of course I trusted him – later on, he even refused to charge me for this cuppa – very kind indeed. I must confess I have forgotten the roaster, which I think was nordic based. It was just what you wanted from a filter brew, delicious mouth feel with fruit at the front with a  caramel underlying tone outside your tongue walls.

From my short stay there, I could smell the dedication to quality at this shop and definitely rate it as one of my top coffee shops in an already very high standard of coffee in London. Once again, thanks to Toby, Natalya and the barista girl for  great experience.

Going Back – Fernandez and Wells, 55 Duke Street, W1K 5NR

If you’ve been an avid follower of my blog you’ll know that when I used to visit London a lot during the noughties (2000-2009) I basically only trusted two brands for great coffee, Flat White on Berwick Street and its sister shop, Milk Bar during the time of Cameron and Fernandez & Wells located at Beak Street and St Anne’s Court back then. Since then Fernandez & Wells have expanded and now have 4 locations. In the summer, as I tried to dodge shoppers on Oxford Street, I walked down Duke Street, adjacent to the corner of Selfridges on Oxford Street and saw that located inside British Fashion shop, Jigsaw, there was a Fernandez & Wells neon sign. As it was time for one of my coffee fixes, I dragged my son in with me to check what was on offer. I was very pleased to see, I must say, that their signature drink, the Stumpy, was still on offer. In summary it is a triple shot cortado style drink – read about it’s origins here.

They have lots of tasty snack options too, which is captured in their recently launched cookbook, Rustic, available on amazon (no, I’m not sponsored by amazon). It’s actually on my wish list as Fernandez & Wells was one of the first London eateries I used to go for both good coffee and food.

Something new – Ludenwic 45 Aldwych, London WC2B 4DW, UK

Just like 2017 flew by with a mad busy work schedule, so did life, because just this past summer, our daughter is already looking at University. As we were waiting to visit Kings College on the Strand, I was looking for somewhere to get my daily espresso milk based fix and I recalled that a few months ago a cafe at Aldwych liked one of my instagram pics and I thought I’d like to check them out. Another busy hub, where most of London’s lawyers work, Lundenwic is well located in a very bustling work area of London, in between London School of Economics and Kings College. It is quite a small shop with a Nordic touch, clean lines, delicious looking pastries, cakes and salads. Luckily, I was also hungry, so I grabbed a nice looking salad to go with my coffee.

Lundenwic use Workshop coffee, so expect a fruity bias, brewed on a La Marzocco Linea. One our last day of our summer holiday, we had to visit a pop-up macaroon ice cream sandwich shop, Yolkin and I was surprised to learn that Lundenwic were open on a Sunday, which with their location is very quiet, but I was very happy to visit them again. So, if you work in that area or are studying at one of London’s best universities, LSE or Kings College, or need a quick great cup of coffee whilst visiting Covent Garden/Theatre Land, then I highly recommend Lundenwic.

Something New Too – Saint Espresso & Kitchen, 296 Kentish Town Rd, London 

On the same trip as above, last summer, we rushed off to Kentish Town to see my cousin and as I waited for the rest of my family to catch up, I saw this little new spot, Saint Espresso & Kitchen.

I walked in briefly and took a quick look around and promised to be back and I was. Walking in, you could tell it was something this type of middle class neighbourhood had missed. Exposed brick, reticent of  New York Urban Retro, wooden stools with sone steel thrown in, offering breakfast, sandwiches, pastries, cakes and more and decked out with a La Marzocco Linea as the finishing touch to a classy spot. I found out that they also roast their own coffee but as our luggage was already on its way to Heathrow and my hand baggage was heavy, I resisted the temptation to buy more coffee.

I had a brief chat with the barista and mentioned that I write about coffee. Upon hearing that and I’m not sure if it was testament to his dedication, he pulled three shots of espresso, before he gave me my order, adding that it might be a bit bright. I must confess that of late whenever I walk into a cafe and mention I write about coffee, some baristi seem to up their game, especially if I’m ordering espresso – a plus for me and I ain’t complaining.

Sure it was a bit bright and flowery, perhaps due to the lower brewing temperature, their espresso menu or coffee but it was sparkly and gave me a lift as we headed down back to the tube to catch the taxing journey to Heathrow Airport. Saint Espresso & Kitchen are very well located, with literally under a minute from Kentish Town tube station on the Northern Line, so if you need that quick coffee rush or coffee on the go, I recommend you pop in before your morning journey to work. I found out afterwards that Saint Espresso have two other shops, one located on 214 Baker’s Street, quite close to the West End, and one at Angel on 26 Pentoville Road, so I am looking forward to checking these out too.

Convenient – Notes Bond Street Station

When my wife and I visited London to celebrate our 20 years wedding anniversary, we headed to Oxford Street via Bond Street tube station and as I walked out, I couldn’t believe what I saw – Notes of Covent Garden now had a small branch at Bond Street Station. Wow! how convenient – before, whenever I came to this end of Oxford Street, I used to head straight to Workshop Coffee at St Christopher’s Place, about 3 minutes walk away, but this is super convenient. When we visited in December, it was my first stop on many occasions.

It’s like a pop-up shop but of course with a strong focus on quality coffee, complimented with a selections of sweets and cakes. They also sell their coffee, which I bought on my last visit to a London coffee shop of 2017. They’ve got the gadgets, friendly and good baristi and offer more than coffee, like hot chocolate and teas.

Soho Favourites – Soho Grind (19 Beak Street, Soho) and Department of Coffee & Social Affairs (3 Lowndes Court, off Carnaby Street)

Occasionally, I find myself near the Soho part of the West End, just off Regents Street and as I wave through the crowds trying to avoid people congestion traffic, I dot through Soho’s side streets and usually stop over at Soho Grind for either filter brew or milk based coffee, where you can be met with a slightly more trendy crowd and friendly baristi. They have seating downstairs if it gets more crowded at the top.

If I’m closer to the Oxford Street end, I pop into Department of Coffee & Social Affairs, which is closer to the top end of Carnaby Street. It’s a lot busier here, with a few tourists around and more seating downstairs. If you want take out, let them know first, otherwise take a seat and wait to be served, which I must confess can be a bit slow. They have a menu for food and some delicious looking cakes too. As they are one of London’s coffee roasters, they sell their coffee too, and now roast for nespresso machines. I bought the latter for my bro, as he owns one.

Luck Londoners with all these high quality coffee shops, phew!

As busy as ever with more quality coffee shops to visit than ever, still makes London, I believe, probably the best coffee city in the World. I look forward to trying out new ones in 2018 or re-visting some old faves to check out if they have maintained their standards.


Drinking Coffee in Bath and Bristol, England

I just noticed that I hadn’t blogged in November, which has been a bit of a blur, having been on the road for about half the month. So, where were we, Bath Part 2. My previous post on Colonna and Smalls highlighted not just the “star” of Bath but also one of the starts of England and if you follow sports, you’ll notice some common threads – great players tend to inspire those around them to greatness too – take Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls NBA (basketball) in the late 1980s, Pele in the Brazilian national team of 1970 World Cup (football) and more – so it is with coffee in Bath. I was pleasantly surprised with the number of quality coffee shops in such a small town (city in England because of the Cathedral). To be honest if I visited Bath and there was only 1 or 2 shops of the quality I saw I would have been happy.

Cascara

So, first off, as soon as we got off the train and dumped our bags at the lovely boutique hotel we stayed at, I was already on the coffee hunt. Right at the top of Upper Borough Walls, was Cascara, a small unassuming place, decked with a La Marzocco linea, serving Bath based coffee roaster, Roundhill coffee together with many healthy food options, vegan based and more. I was craving milk-based espresso, so I ordered a flat white, had a quick chat with the owner and was off to catch up with the family, who had failed to see me pop in. I mentioned to the owner (a lady whose name I’ve sadly forgotten) if she knew of Colonna and Smalls and of course she had, lauded them and didn’t even rank her coffee anywhere near theirs. I assured her that her coffee was good, to which she was pleased and then I was off again. Afterwards I saw that on google she’s ranked 4.7 out of 5, so don’t just take it from me, visit Cascara.

Hunter and Sons
Almost around the corner from Cascara is Hunter and Sons – recommended by a retailer and some others in the city, located at 14/15 Milsom Place in a mini outdoor mall style setting with restaurants like Jamie and a steak house – very chic, but easy to miss.

I found out later that Maxwell, owner of Colonna actually started here before he decided to part company and start his own coffee emporium. Decked with a Synesso and very posh-hip looking with designer beers on offer at one end, it’s coffee corner is unassuming with a little menu for both coffee and food. It was empty when I visited in mid-morning but I’m sure on the weekends and evening it is packed. Being mid-morning, I ordered a flat white in a glossy green cup,

Fruity based but I forget the roaster and easy to drink for most coffee drinkers.

Society Coffee

When we were pushed for time, I accepted defeat in my quest to visit Colonna at least once a day, and quickly goggled coffee shops in Bath and realised I was next to Society Coffee at 19 High Street, very close to Cathedral and heart of the city. As it was late afternoon, I needed a pour over.

I quickly glanced over at the brew station and ordered some coffee and even had time to sit once I convinced my wife and daughter to order hot chocolates and a brownie. I found out later that Society have another coffee shop, which I just had to visit on our final and last hour in bath a couple of days later. On my second visit to the branch, I bought Roundhill coffees, had a chat with the barista as they poured this lovely cappuccino


Took a pic and literally rushed off to catch our train back to London.

Full Court Press, Bristol

I thought it opportune to mention that we took a day trip to Bristol as my daughter wanted to look at the university there. Located about 15 minutes train ride from Bath, it’s a much bigger city, where you can shop more and indulge in West England’s largest city, recently voted best place to live in the UK. As usual, I was thinking about my coffee fix and haven “goggled” best coffee in Bristol, this came up and lucky me, praise God, what do you know, it was on our path from the train station to the university. So I took the opportunity to pop in for a quick flat white.

The owner hails from Bristol, studied out of the city and was back to share his love of coffee with its residents – very generous. It’s quaint and with the grinders by simonelli and a La Marzocco strada for espresso, you can tell the focus is coffee with used coffee bags framed to decorate the wall.

They’ve got cakes, sarnies (sandwiches for non-Brits) and menu options for coffee, espresso , filter and guest coffee roasters.

so if you’re smart enough to get into the University of Bristol check this cafe out and some others I didn’t have the time to check out.


I was @ Colonna and Smalls: One of the Best Cafes in the UK

I know that my title sounds a bit daring, committing myself to using labels like “best….” but life is too short and when you have these wonderful experiences God throws at you, don’t restrict yourself to holding back and waiting for some other moment that may never come. So, after my philosophical rant, what do I mean ? I don’t think I’ve been this excited about visiting a cafe since Prufrock – see here. A bit of background – as holiday planner in charge; I was asked to find a nice English city to visit with other family members this past summer and initially we thought about Cornwall and what sprung to my mind was cornish pasties (if you’re not English, these are like a specialty short crust pastry pies filled with meat or veggies) and scones with clotted cream ( a cream typical of only this part of England), but whilst I had no aversion to these classical English cuisine gems, I thought if we’re are going to a place for three days, where will I get a great cup of coffee from. After some searching together with some cute boutique hotels, I wasn’t impressed – sorry Cornwall. So, I thought where else would I love to go, Bath – we’ve always wanted to go there, so why not now and suddenly like a flash I recalled that one of the cafes that I’ve always wanted to go in the UK, but never got the chance, was located there – Colonna & Smalls. Sold to the coffee lover!

Before visiting, what did I know about Colonna and Smalls ? Owned by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, two times UK barista champion, I had many times about his contribution to the UK coffee science, having read about him many times, mentioned by the coffee celebrities many times over. when my brother visited many months ago, he asked me “where should I go for coffee” and I only had one answer; “Colonna and Smalls”. Before visiting I sent Maxwell a tweet and he replied very quickly mentioning that he was looking forward to me visiting.

We got into Bath on a late Sunday afternoon and I found out that their shop was already closed. I found another cafe, ordered my flat white, which was nice and asked them where else they would recommend – there was only one answer and they were like”that’s another type of level” even though I knew that on Monday my first visit would be Colonna & Smalls. And so it was.

As you enter, it’s like you’ve waiting many years to enter this emporium – a homage to coffee. I’m not going to go into details about the decor, but just the experience; I had to ask this at the back of my mind “do people in Bath know how lucky they are to have this cafe in their city?”. As you walk to the back of the shop, there are books authored by Maxwell, his UK barista championship trophies and other trophies awarded to his staff, who are also well decorated (see their website for more, UK latte art champion, etc).


As you walk towards the brightly lit back of the shop, where all the action is located – there’s this oozing calm and air of professionalism, rarely found in other cafes – they are not here just to sell coffee but to make sure you have a great experience too.

Now the techie part.

First I noticed that all their coffee beans were pre-weighed in little metal looking bowls


Then I noticed that there was no “typical” espresso grinder in place. What’s going on?

The Mahl Konig EK43 – something I have only really seen at cafes when they grind for filter coffee.

I must confess, it was until I got back to Vienna and delved into the story of the EK43 in James Hoffmann book about his blog,  did I know about the issue concerning using the EK43 for grinding for espresso. It was really talked up and propagated a few years back by espresso/coffee guru Ben Kaminsky and even Prufrock were very excited about it, read here

In summary the debate says that using the EK43 (not built for grinding for espresso but ideally for spices and perhaps for filter coffee) not only minimises waste because you grind per cup but also that it grinds very evenly with little differentiation in grind size – this means that you can even lower the amount of coffee you use – they use about 16.5g as opposed to the industry average of 18-20g (I usually ask) which should result in a better tasting espresso. After all, most coffee aficionado fell in love with coffee through the espresso. In any case, there’s a few top cafes who were converted to do this avant garde way of grinding and hence brewing coffee and of course Maxwell is one of them.

Second, it was great to actually meet Maxwell himself. Usually when you visit emporiums of coffee, the owner or main driver is always not around, tending to some other business or on holiday – the one exception was Cameron of Flat White many moons ago. He was very welcoming and we talked about coffee (of course), their philosophy – they usually offer about three coffees per brew type; filter and espresso, where you can be guided by taste profiles. They try and source the best coffee that fits their preferences, so for example, surprise surprise for me, they roast for capsules – yes, you read that right. You can buy nespresso capsules roasted by one of the finest coffee roasters in the UK – I bought a box of 10 for my brother who has a nespresso machine. As they roast their own coffee in a town outside Bath, they can easily experiment with taste profiles for many styles – visit their “other” website for more about their coffee, see here. If you visit there are quite a lot of their coffees on sale and feel free to ask them for guidance. They even have a booklet on explaining their coffees and brewing methods.

and the coffee….

I opted for a flat white with a fruity profile – well balanced even with the milk, reminded me of hints of toffee like my coffee had evaporated milk added. On my second visit I went for a more “nutty” profile. I was really intrigued by their unique way of making Americanos but sadly I wasn’t able to make it – I thought it best to avoid the wrath of my mum and wife as my plan was to make colonna and smalls my last stop before catching the train back to London, but alas for next time God willing.

One more techie thing – the mod bar. I actually missed this new innovative way of brewing espresso because on my first visit I was so excited to meet with Maxwell, I didn’t go behind the bar to check what type of espresso brewing equipment they were using. On the second visit, as I had more time, I relaxed and had time to chat to the baristi and then I was introduced to the mod bar – short for modular brewing system.


In summary and borrowing from their website, it’s

espresso system consists of one espresso tap and one espresso module

Each Espresso Module controls one tap. Retailers have an opportunity to dial each Espresso Module to fit a different coffee. And they have options galore in how they fit the Modules to their retail set-up.

From what I saw, it looks fabulous – it’s like the next level of brewing espresso, where you can change the profiles using a button or touch screen per group head – state of the art – even though I am aware that the Slayer Espresso machine can do this provided that you are a very talented barista. At Colonna all the baristi have some kind of award so the skills are there but the fact that the mod bar group asked them to test it means something too.

As I left, I fell like a boy being dragged out of a toy shop, but I was after all in Bath to see other things and spend precious time with my family.

One more thing. It was really impressive to watch the barista prepare aeropress. He poured the freshly ground coffee into the aeropress capsule, poured a little bit of water, shook it around vigorously but carefully and as he did it, it bloomed and doubled in height, after which he poured more water, covered it and waited for it to complete the brewing process. I wished I filmed it so you can see what I meant, but it was really impressive.

Highly recommended – If you are looking for a beautiful city to visit in England and enjoy exceptional coffee and more, check them out at

Colonna & Smalls

6 Chapel Row, Bath,  UK.

My next post will be on drinking coffee in Bath – a beautiful city with tons of coffee culture.